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Life of a woman
August 30, 2010 4:11 PM   Subscribe

Life of a woman. Bare, simple line drawings. Many open to interpretation.
posted by twirlypen (102 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
TAT cards are getting freakier and freakier.
posted by Gator at 4:13 PM on August 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


Whut?
posted by chavenet at 4:14 PM on August 30, 2010


Weird.
posted by delmoi at 4:18 PM on August 30, 2010


Is this one of those weird russian image scraper sites that grab stuff and leave off attribution? Some of these are hilarious, others disturbing, but mostly I wonder who the artist that originally did them is, and where their site is.
posted by mathowie at 4:18 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


TAT cards are getting freakier and freakier

I still find it hard to believe that the TAT cards they showed me in junior high school weren't intended to be as grim as they looked.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:21 PM on August 30, 2010


um.
was that a potato that was dragging on a string from her butt?
posted by angrycat at 4:24 PM on August 30, 2010


Yeah, I couldn't find the artist so I thought I'd just share the page and hope someone else may be able to help out on that front.

BUT THEN!

I found her: Ruth Gwily. And here's the link to the images in the post. Perhaps a mod could replace the link with this one from her site?
posted by twirlypen at 4:33 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Man, those sleeping-inside-a-giant-yam years are the worst. But it's all worth it when you can finally relax and listen to your huge infant-headed son's butt through a tin can on a string.

Very B. Klibanesque; I like it a lot.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:34 PM on August 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


Images of giant toddlers just freak me out. Maybe I'm not good with symbolism?
posted by heyho at 4:37 PM on August 30, 2010


Art!
posted by TwelveTwo at 4:37 PM on August 30, 2010


Hm. My malwarebytes stopped me from going to that site. Maybe mbam read angrycat's comment and doesn't like taters?
posted by CancerMan at 4:38 PM on August 30, 2010


Yah, my AV software freaked out at some advertiser js the 2nd time I tried to view this page.
posted by boo_radley at 4:41 PM on August 30, 2010


She should take that cat to the vet.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 4:46 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow. That was really thought-provoking.

I especially liked the way she portrayed The Beast with Two Backs.
posted by zarq at 4:47 PM on August 30, 2010


[Replaced the link.]
posted by cortex at 4:49 PM on August 30, 2010


Reminds me a bit of Hoogerbrugge.
posted by archagon at 4:50 PM on August 30, 2010


Much better from her site as they appear in an order.
posted by 3.2.3 at 4:50 PM on August 30, 2010


I especially liked the way she portrayed The Beast with Two Backs.

I thought we had an embargo on mentioning The Human Centip---
posted by m@f at 4:53 PM on August 30, 2010


I could be wrong, but she *may* not be representative of all women. (I don't know, I never played with a turd marionette, but hey, maybe I'm missing out!)
posted by iamkimiam at 4:54 PM on August 30, 2010


I thought we had an embargo on mentioning The Human Centip---

Isn't that the beast with three backs?
posted by zarq at 4:55 PM on August 30, 2010


The beast with N backs.
posted by TwelveTwo at 4:56 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


was that a potato that was dragging on a string from her butt?

Don't be an idiot.
posted by dobbs at 4:57 PM on August 30, 2010


How many cupcakes do I have to smoke before I enjoy this?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 4:58 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Woah. This lady is seriously fucking good.

was that a potato that was dragging on a string from her butt?

No, from her vagina. Looks like a symbolic baby to me.
posted by cmoj at 5:05 PM on August 30, 2010


It's got two little eyes and mouth. So, yes.
posted by naju at 5:06 PM on August 30, 2010


Yeesh! Philistines!

Well, really. Come on, you might not like them, but it is a thought-provoking series. I found it kind of heavy and moving - even where I felt the drawings weren't entirely successful, they did make me think about episodes in my own life. I was coming in to comment "Thanks for turning my evening all heavy and serious" but am surprised at the reaction. Lots of people might not like them...but I have a hard time believing people really don't get them. Especially on a site where people will immediately parse the nuances of comic art to the final crosshatch.

Maybe that's the problem: if the artist had presented these in side-by-side six-panel arrangements, perhaps we'd see raves.
posted by Miko at 5:07 PM on August 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


The artist.
posted by Miko at 5:08 PM on August 30, 2010


I found these incredibly moving as well, Miko.
posted by naju at 5:08 PM on August 30, 2010


I kind of like them and kinda wish they weren't so mime-y. I find it hard to take mimes seriously.

They're uncomfortable and some of them are very touching (I particularly like the one with Death courting her). It's almost as if they are too much all together; sort of symbolic overload. I kind of wish she'd picked out the most powerful ones and done a little more with them, maybe?
posted by emjaybee at 5:16 PM on August 30, 2010


I thought they rocked. Some missed but over all a nice series of drawings.

I'd love to see her take on "life as a man."
posted by Max Power at 5:16 PM on August 30, 2010


Dude. What's with all the fucking mimes?
posted by pxe2000 at 5:19 PM on August 30, 2010


Judges 13: And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD delivered them into the hand of the Philistines forty years. And yeesh! did the Philistines ever hate mime makeup and linear perspective. It was going to be a long forty years.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 5:23 PM on August 30, 2010 [8 favorites]


Not so sure about the infant with the camel toe in the second pic. Was that really necessary? And there was wee on the floor in the first pic. Where did it go?

I need answers.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:10 PM on August 30, 2010


I don't think that was wee (...) on the floor in the first image, I think it was symbolic of the woman being born, the amniotic fluid.
posted by Gator at 6:12 PM on August 30, 2010


I really hope Miko is kidding. Not about the piece being good, but about being judgy-judgepants. Some people just don't like line drawings of men licking up after a woman with a giant baby head, and don't find it thought provoking at all. That does not a Phillistine make.
posted by monkeymadness at 6:24 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Not so sure about the infant with the camel toe in the second pic.

I believe that was a full-grown woman in a leotard wearing a giant baby mask. Whether that changes your feelings about camel toe I don't know.
posted by cortex at 6:24 PM on August 30, 2010


Thanks, Gator. I think I know what the curtains represent, then.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:27 PM on August 30, 2010


I believe that was a full-grown woman in a leotard wearing a giant baby mask. Whether that changes your feelings about camel toe I don't know.

Did you know Max Hardcore got four years in the big house for making porn with an actress who was PRETENDING to be under aged? I think there's a lesson there for all of us.

wut
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:31 PM on August 30, 2010


Can we figure out what each of the images represents? Some of them I get but many I don't.
posted by Danila at 6:43 PM on August 30, 2010


Bedpans feature prominently.
posted by kittyprecious at 7:08 PM on August 30, 2010


Particularly confusing ones: Monkey? Poop puppet? Dog ears? Antlers?

But for the most part I like them. Very neat.
posted by Gordafarin at 7:24 PM on August 30, 2010


I burst out laughing at this. It's Mass Art's Studio for Interrelated Media in comic strip form. Utterly pretentious and taking her self Very Seriously. Also, tracing paper gets you in the New Yorker now?
posted by Scoo at 7:31 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


. Some people just don't like line drawings of men licking up after a woman with a giant baby head, and don't find it thought provoking at all. That does not a Phillistine make.

I took care to say that there's nothing wrong with not liking them. I was commenting on the early vibe the thread seemed to be taking on, which I would describe as "WHA?! WEIRDO DRAWINGS OF GURLZ?!" Critique, by all means. Dislike, by all means. Express sincere puzzlement, by all means.
posted by Miko at 7:43 PM on August 30, 2010


Thanks for posting this. So many times I've wondered "what on earth is going on in her head?" when a woman does something incomprehensible to me.

Now, I just need to remember these pictures and it will all make perfect sense.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:50 PM on August 30, 2010


Fair enough. I wanna understand and will try to take these more seriously, but as of this moment, I really don't get it. Can someone explain some of these (especially the early ones, before the baby)? Like what is the deal with the cupcake on the tongue depressor (later, frog)?
posted by iamkimiam at 7:55 PM on August 30, 2010


I enjoyed these, and I enjoyed browsing the rest of her site. Her plain, representative style and focus on the human form and its composition with others (rather than facial expressions) makes me think "dancer" rather than "pretentious artist who takes herself too seriously and so doesn't draw anyone smiling".

This animated photographic piece [NSFW, bare breasts] pretty much confirms it.
posted by xthlc at 8:02 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, it's artwork, and so it's open to interpretation. I can explain what I think about when I look at it, and somewhere maybe the artist can explain what was in her mind, and everyone else can talk about their reactions to it, but no one really owns the meaning. There probably will be large patterns that emerge where a lot of people agree on something that an artwork seems to be saying, but ultimately it's not a puzzle with a single answer.

But anyway, the cupcake. That one has two resonances for me. For one, it reminds me of the kinds of stunts or tricks that were supposed to teach women perfect posture back in the day. The classic one was walking around a room with a book balanced on your head. The straight, stock-still posture in the picture reminded me of that, and walking around balancing something on a tongue depressor would be equally hard.

That the object does look like a cupcake is pretty interesting. NOrmally, one eats a cupcake. But for some (many?) women, eating a cupcake is an act that is rarely free of difficult inner debate. A cupcake is pretty much the fripperiest food there is - self-indulgent, not for sharing, loaded with calories and sugar, festive. In other words, it's highly tempting, but potentially guilt-inducing, because thoughts about weight and health and appearance are never far from the minds of many young women. The way the woman's eyes appear to be narrowed down and focused on the cupcake, and yet it's clear that the balancing stick is keeping it at a distance yet not removing the temptation from her line of sight, kind of feels to me like an allusion to a fraught relationship with food, weight and appearance.
posted by Miko at 8:06 PM on August 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


Also, some of my personal interpretations of the more obscure ones:

1) Monkey mask: a particularly awkward and exposed stage of adolescence

2) Dog ears: feeling unloved and unappreciated by your family even though you've worked hard to sustain them; alternatively, waking up 18 years after your last child was born to realize that you are now thoroughly boring and domesticated, and therefore having a midlife crisis and being depressed

3) Antlers: the antlers are shedding velvet, the rich soft skin that covers an antler while it's still growing, supplying it with blood and nutrients. When the antler reaches its full size, the velvet sheds (which is typically bloody and gross) leaving behind hard, dead bone. My guess is that it represents menopause.

4) poop puppet: jesus christ i have no idea
posted by xthlc at 8:15 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


For what its worth, that was my association too, Miko.

I think the early part is teenager, early adulthood (struggle) and then courtship.
posted by olya at 8:20 PM on August 30, 2010


"poop puppet" could be a baby, that in the following images becomes a "body part" that she needs to feed, until it grows independent.
posted by olya at 8:21 PM on August 30, 2010


Oh totally, I didn't see a "poop puppet" at all. I saw it as a hand puppet/extension of self that needs to feed from the mother, ie, a baby.
posted by Miko at 8:24 PM on August 30, 2010


I actually took the poop puppet to be a colon puppet: Many middle aged women I know have digestive issues.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 8:25 PM on August 30, 2010


Ladies, in case you haven't figured it out, your life revolves around your vulva and the various things that leak from it, such as urine, menstrual blood, babies, and urine again.

You will not have a career, but you will have a cis-man. Never mind if you'd rather have another vulva in your bed, a cis-man you shall have, for he is a prerequisite to leaking the mandatory baby.

Also, once your baby is grown and your cis-man dies you will be pretty much useless and without value. You can try and fill the holes in your life by getting a cat, but as mentioned before, pussies are not adequate substitutes for penises. You might as well die.

In all seriousness, I get it. Yeah, this is how U.S. American society views women. I'm just not particularly moved or impressed, and I don't find it all that insightful.
posted by philotes at 8:32 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


I thought they were amazing and moving and beautiful; I love seeing art by woman that addresses motherhood, in all its light and darkness.
posted by jokeefe at 8:32 PM on August 30, 2010


Ladies, in case you haven't figured it out, your life revolves around your vulva and the various things that leak from it, such as urine, menstrual blood, babies, and urine again.

philotes, it's a series of drawings largely about the experience of birth and motherhood. Which kind of involves by definition the physicality explored here. I don't think it's prescriptive, or particularly political, and I couldn't disagree with your reading more.
posted by jokeefe at 8:35 PM on August 30, 2010


Dude. What's with all the fucking mimes?

I believe that she's indicating masks, not makeup.
posted by jokeefe at 8:37 PM on August 30, 2010


The reason I interpreted it as I did is because by starting the story at the birth of a woman and ending with her death it at least purports to be about the full life of a woman. Why should her childhood be part of that story if her professional life is not? I'm pro-motherhood, so much so that I don't think mothers should be forced out of the professional realm because of their decision to give birth. I don't dislike this series because it deals with birth and motherhood, I dislike it because it deals with them poorly.

You're right, though, I am interpreting it from a political perspective, probably because it seems to be parroting the standard feminine narrative which is itself a political tool.
posted by philotes at 8:47 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I liked these, and the artist's site, a lot. Thanks! Had never heard of her before.
posted by everichon at 8:50 PM on August 30, 2010


It's not a "poop puppet", it's a sort of pupal casing. The image appears during her single adult life shortly before her courtship with the man. She's in the process of the tricky manuevering by which she will bring life into the world. The images reflect as much on the inner state of the woman as the outer life cycle, so at this point she might be thinking about the future, whether she will have a baby, and what she has to do to make such an outcome occur. In this same period, she's sparring with various partners (romantic interests), watching her weight (the cupcake, eating the icky frog), generally feeling doomed and unwanted (nuclear bomb, marking herself like a cancer patient).
posted by naju at 9:24 PM on August 30, 2010


Oh, and the pupal casing might also represent bringing love into her life, not a baby.
posted by naju at 9:27 PM on August 30, 2010


These are fantastic.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:37 PM on August 30, 2010


I think that eating the frog and the poop puppet bit represent a career, or different careers. I know that I have felt like my job consists of wrangling shit, or forcing myself to do something unpleasant.

In fact, I felt familiarity in most of these images, and I really like the set. The one with her trying to sleep with the bomb hanging over her head is incredibly illustrative of times in my life, even if the symbolism is very overt. I appreciate this post.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 9:45 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Where I stopped: A man crawling behind a woman, licking the floor.

Fucking DuChamp.
posted by Twang at 10:20 PM on August 30, 2010


I think these are a very effective set of images.
posted by furiousthought at 10:34 PM on August 30, 2010


Metafilter: jesus christ i have no idea
posted by yiftach at 11:31 PM on August 30, 2010


I found this to be very powerful.

I'm not a woman, but as to the political reading of this: it's art, and it's called Life of A woman, not THE woman or ALL women. It's one artist's symbolic representation of one life cycle of one human being.

Also, for what it's worth: The artist is Israeli*, which makes her life experience re: career etc. different from your assumptions, since she did military service then went to art school. Your critique sounds (to me) like it was based on your (antagonism toward your) societal norms which are not the same as the artist's.

*I didn't know this until after I saw this other interesting piece on her site and then clicked through to her illoz.com page.
posted by yiftach at 11:46 PM on August 30, 2010


Wow, these are great. I think the skull proposing with a slipper is my favorite--very touching/terrifying...
posted by equalpants at 12:02 AM on August 31, 2010


Here's my interpretation:

1 & 2: Birth

3, 4 & 5: infancy & toddler

6, 7 & 8: Childhood

9 & 10: early adolescence

11 & 12: scary puberty

13: early crushes

14: masturbation/exploring sexuality

15: awkwardness and embarrassment in young adulthood

16: ready to find a partner (instead of masturbation)?

17: romance games

18: worries about weight/self control

19: anxiety/pressure

20 & 21: eating disorder?

22: Period of isolation/withdrawal/social anxiety?

23: I don't know!! Decorating/beautifying herself? Or the opposite — camouflage?

24: Fear of intimacy/men ~or~ very bad relationship

25: Trying to find each other ~or~romantic problems due to miscommunication

26: Weight problems or body issues

27: She tries to attract a man

28: (and succeeds)

29: courtship/dating

30: intimacy

31: sex

32: cohabitation

33 & 34: preparing to have a baby ~or~ gestation?

35 & 36: difficulties conceiving? ~or~ birth of baby, with postnatal depression?

37: caring for baby

38: discipline problems, failure to understand?

39: difficult relations with child? Being an overbearing mother?

40: Moving/transition

41 & 42: Child leaves home

43: Bad relationship with adult child

44: I have no idea. Regret? (perhaps feeling like an ass?) Dunno.

45: death of partner

46: Loss of identity? Menopause?

47: Aging

48: Mourning, or burying grief

49: Loneliness or solitude

50: Anticipation of (comfort of?) death

51: Holding out against senility

52 & 53: Second childhood and loss of physical functions

53: Dying

54: Death

55: Curtains

56 & 57: The Players

*applause*
posted by taz at 12:37 AM on August 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


it's called Life of A woman, not THE woman or ALL women

Checking back, as far as I can see it's only called "Cycle".

I'm not sure where twirlypen got "Life of a woman" from, but it doesn't seem to come from the artist.

And if not, the framing of the post would have arguably steered the conversation in ways it didn't necessarily need to go.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:41 AM on August 31, 2010


Okay... maybe I'm still hungover, but seriously... DO NOT GET. I mean, not bad drawing, but I just don't get it. At all.

And sideways scrolling websites don't improve my mood any.

Now, I'm going to go get a mug of coffee...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 1:24 AM on August 31, 2010


Powerful.
posted by eeeeeez at 2:27 AM on August 31, 2010


Well, I liked these. It made me think about being at the mercy of biology, which seems increasingly relevant as I get older. I don't really get the not getting, but I watched True Blood for the first time last night and didn't really get the appeal of that at all, so de gustibus etc.
posted by speicus at 3:13 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wonderful, really powerful.

To make great art that looks as simple as this is something to marvel at.
posted by fire&wings at 3:39 AM on August 31, 2010


I don't really know how to talk about art, so I'll just say: I liked these. Thanks for posting them, Twirlypen.
posted by harriet vane at 4:50 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Metafilter does not seem to do contemporary art well. I wonder if Metafilter is actually my dad.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:07 AM on August 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


I guess I would say to the non-getters: there's nothing to get - it's not about a hidden answer. Look at the drawing. Ask yourself what it makes you think about? What confuses you? What seems weird and why is it weird? How does it make you feel? If you were the subject, how would you feel at that moment? Have you ever felt that way in real life?

Dealing with metaphor may be where the "not getting" is - I think there are metaphors in many/most of these drawings, but you can arrive at some response to them by examining each section and thinking something like "OK, I see a frog. Having to eat a live frog would be really gross and icky and messy and viscerally disgusting and unpalatable - it's something I'd want to resist. Why would someone make themselves do something so incredibly unappealing? What would that thing be?"
posted by Miko at 6:06 AM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


I liked it. Just the right balance of symbolism, suggestion and pretension.

Shakespearian - Metafilter may be your dad but it certainly isn't mine. My dad would have responded to these drawings by saying "Huh." and then disappearing into the greenhouse to smoke a pipe.
posted by Decani at 6:11 AM on August 31, 2010


Taz, I think you were spot on with your interpretations.

I'm struggling a bit with the loss of identity and that panel was like a stab in the heart. My face changed so little through the years up until this past year. Now when I get up and look in the mirror, it is a bit freaky-- "Who is that strange lady?" What is more difficult to accept is that this is my new face and I will be an old lady for the rest of my life-- 40 years or more perhaps.

The teeth burial panel also evoked strong emotions. No matter how young and vibrant you feel mentally, your physical body does begin to decay and it feels like a betrayal. My teeth were always so good-- I never needed braces, I never had cavities, I never had to think about them, they just did their job and looked pretty. Now, one by one, my molars are disintegrating. Modern life timeline doesn't match up with natural life timeline exactly; thanks to available dentistry I will eventually have a mouthful of caps, but without intervention I would end up toothless.

The only one I disagree with your interpretation is #40-- I'm not so sure it is moving. I see it as more the burden of being a housewife (as in "the main female of the house.") No matter where you go, no matter what you do, there are always dirty dishes and filthy floors and dusty cobwebs and piles of laundry to take care of.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:41 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Shakespearian - Metafilter may be your dad but it certainly isn't mine. My dad would have responded to these drawings by saying "Huh." and then disappearing into the greenhouse to smoke a pipe.

I once took my dad to the contemporary wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, and there was a fantastic installation piece that was a painting of something or other, but then all of the artist's tools and studio implements had been left there as well-- paintbrushes, chair, dropcloths, ashtray, empty beer cans, notes he'd scrawled to himself about unrelated things. The entirety of the space from which the painting was born had been recreated-- or, really, moved-- to a gallery in Chicago. But then, surrounding all of that, the actual tools and implements for the installation crew had also been left there-- a diagram of where the paintbrushes, chair, dropcloths, etc were to go, a walkie-talkie, various tools and tapemeasures and grease pencils. The piece served to transform the entire Art Institute into a living environment that commented on this piece, and beyond that, the city of Chicago, and it continued to expand outward until it encompassed all of reality, rearranging it like Wallace Stevens's jar. Everything I had ever seen or thought of was suddenly found art, an artifact incorporated into this simple piece.

My dad, meanwhile, rolled his eyes and said, 'That took a lot of talent.'
posted by shakespeherian at 6:59 AM on August 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


but I have a hard time believing people really don't get them.

Some of them, I get. I like the one where she's talking to her kid on the "phone" and the kid has the phone on its butt. Ha.

Others... I have never slept in a cucumber. What is that about? I guess the "pupal stage" explanation makes sense, but I'm still not entirely sure of masturbating with a turnip on your nose.
posted by sonika at 8:14 AM on August 31, 2010


Metafilter does not seem to do contemporary art well. I wonder if Metafilter is actually my dad.

Metafilter.com is not a contemporary art museum in the narrow sense that we're speaking of.

Imagine an exhibit that involved putting some drawings on Segweys along with a microphone and a pilot and driving them around on the sidewalk and collecting everything that someone willing to respond to that incoming vessel chooses to say about the drawing attached to it. How well are they expected to do? What qualifies as successful per-capita interaction with contemporary art when the crowd is so much less self-selecting up front, when what defines the recorded interaction/criticism is the willingness to respond at all rather than the willingness to set aside an hour or three to wander around in a contemporary art museum?

My point is, someone hook me up with an NEA grant so I can buy myself a Segway.
posted by cortex at 8:20 AM on August 31, 2010


Others... I have never slept in a cucumber. What is that about? I guess the "pupal stage" explanation makes sense, but I'm still not entirely sure of masturbating with a turnip on your nose.

It's the process of coming to terms with how you relate to your own sexuality, and how those relations change how you are seen by the world. I think that particular image may even represent the woman's more sapphic desires and how she deals with relating to them - she isn't masturbating with her hand, but specifically finding something that would supplant the symbolic physicality of a man. At the same time, she is considering what wearing those desires outwardly (vs. being closeted) would cause her to be viewed as by others. If she were only experiencing her sexuality in the societal default position, she wouldn't be worried about appearing 'other'.

Of course, that could be taking it a step too deep, and it may just be about her wondering about how becoming a sexual being will change how she's viewed in general. There's room for interpretation.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:16 AM on August 31, 2010


I too think these are really good. I was intrigued and moved. Great post.
posted by barrett caulk at 12:36 PM on August 31, 2010


was that a potato that was dragging on a string from her butt?

Don't be an idiot.


Um -- oh shit, the idiot light went on in my brain and I was distracted and didn't notice it. I'll turn it off now and look at it again.

/looks

Ah! Brilliant!
posted by angrycat at 1:05 PM on August 31, 2010


Imagine an exhibit that involved putting some drawings on Segweys...

But the strange thing is that MetaFilter really isn't the sidewalk, it's already a self-selecting pool of people who have at least some interest in contemporary culture, and if you replaced "drawings" with "songs" or "comics" or "games" you could reasonably expect a literate response even from people who aren't totally enamored. And mostly, you get it. And interestingly, even "your favorite band sucks" kinds of responses, when done decently, expand out into "your favorite band sucks because I personally have X, Y, and Z aesthetic criteria and this band fails to meet them," instead of "shrug."

It strikes me as interesting, that's all. Drawings or paintings or installations aren't really any different from any other product made in the culture insofar as our ability to talk about them. I think people just seem to approach them with more intimidation - which you don't have to.
posted by Miko at 1:43 PM on August 31, 2010


This happens, too, in contemporary music threads that aren't about bands, FWIW. There was a lot of mockery or pointed not-getting-it in this thread about Cage's 4'33". But it is interesting-- as a liberal arts major, I'm sort of spoiled on the notion that intelligent and liberal-minded people are also people who are interested in the bleeding edge of culture, of poststructural criticism, of experimental art and music and the interrogation of aesthetic presumptions. But, of course, this doesn't have to be true of intelligent and liberal-minded people. Here I butt up against my own assumptions, and it's a strange feeling.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:24 PM on August 31, 2010


But the strange thing is that MetaFilter really isn't the sidewalk, it's already a self-selecting pool of people who have at least some interest in contemporary culture, and if you replaced "drawings" with "songs" or "comics" or "games" you could reasonably expect a literate response even from people who aren't totally enamored.

I agree to an extent, but

1. The barrier to entry on a random and potentially unfamiliar subdiscipline is a lot lower on mefi than at a museum or critical klatch dedicated to that subdiscipline—again, reloading what for many people is in no small part a random web content aggregator and clicking on a link to some pictures is a lot simpler, faster, cheaper, and less intimidating than visiting MoMA.

2. The degree of accessibility of subject literacy for something like interpretative criticism of contemporary art vs. commercial pop art entertainment is a bit different, so expecting someone chilling out on the internet to approach a discussion of something a little more rarefied with the same facility as they might more accessible stuff is a little unreasonable.

Which, I'm not saying either of these things are reasons why you can't be a little annoyed if people aren't getting, or are furthermore in a few cases loudly Not Getting, something posted here. But I don't think it rises to the level of "mefi doesn't do this well", as if the problem is some systemic failing on the part of mefites to approach the subject correctly. It's more that people are relaxing in their familiar place, not feeling like they have to approach the subject in a specific way or stay out of the discussion, and so you get something a little more bumpy and heterogeneous than you might at a gallery or whatever.
posted by cortex at 3:27 PM on August 31, 2010


2. The degree of accessibility of subject literacy for something like interpretative criticism of contemporary art vs. commercial pop art entertainment is a bit different, so expecting someone chilling out on the internet to approach a discussion of something a little more rarefied with the same facility as they might more accessible stuff is a little unreasonable.

There's a big part of me that's just vexed that art isn't in this "relaxed" category. There's really nothing rarefied about art. It's true that people are more likely to encounter more commercialized forms of art, but anyone who can bring a critical faculty to bear on the topic of pop music, food, or fashion can also do so when it comes to drawings. I think part of this is less MeFi-specific, and more about how people perceive art as something WHOA way over there and feel like you need some special secret toolbox to understand it - when really, you don't. In other words, it's not that people lack the literacy to discuss this visual material - it's that they think that somehow more literacy must be required than what they are walking in the door with.
posted by Miko at 4:19 PM on August 31, 2010


There's really nothing rarefied about art.

Well not intrinsically, no. There has been a concerted effort in the last however many decades to make art rarefied, to cloister it away in marble-columned buildings where people whisper because Important Things are there.

I have a large rant about the cultural landscape created by art museums and dealers.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:27 PM on August 31, 2010


That's interesting, Shakespeherian - from where I sit, art has always been in rarefied settings - patrons' homes, high churches and cloisters, museums of 100-50 years ago -- and contemporary museums have been busting ass to break down those barriers and make the art they contain much more accessible to regular people.

Dealers and galleries are a different story - they exist to plump up the market and make more money for everybody, so they go at their work entirely differently than museums, especially publicly funded museums, and so museums and dealers/galleries are often directly at odds.
posted by Miko at 4:31 PM on August 31, 2010


I think part of this is less MeFi-specific, and more about how people perceive art as something WHOA way over there and feel like you need some special secret toolbox to understand it - when really, you don't. In other words, it's not that people lack the literacy to discuss this visual material - it's that they think that somehow more literacy must be required than what they are walking in the door with.

Again, I think I agree with you in large part—at least, we both seem to want the world to be a bit different from how it is right now in pretty much the same way, as far as the practical acceptance of art interpretation as a casual activity for everyone to feel good about participating in.

But like shakespeherian rightly notes, the difference between thinking people should feel okay getting lay-interpretative about art and people actually being sent that message rather than one that contradicts it is an important one. The former is a nice thought; the latter isn't really happening so consistently.

And not remotely a jab at you, Miko, because I know you were being conversational and silly up thread and not actually trying to get on anyone's case, but:

Consider how someone who, having gotten the message from the mavens of art culture that art is hard and they should be rightly intimidated by it, speaks up a little in a random conversation about how they don't like or don't get a piece of contemporary art and then is greeted by someone shouting "Philistines!". At that point, the inclination to think "fine, this is hard, fuck it, I'm not gonna try" may be more reinforced than undercut. It's tricky stuff.

and contemporary museums have been busting ass to break down those barriers and make the art they contain much more accessible to regular people

Which is good, but it's hard. Maybe it's a matter of generational change—the idea of an art museum, the sheer age and momentum of art-as-old-hard-rarefied-thing (or alternately new-hard-rarefied-thing) making it difficult to just transform people's general approach to art with any kind of speed. The fact that art-as-commercial-market pretty much requires that artworks be put on a pedestal in order to prove their economic worth doesn't help either, probably.
posted by cortex at 4:37 PM on August 31, 2010


I promote this book to a ridiculous degree on this site, but a lot of intelligent criticism of the art world & museum establishment can be found in Suzi Gablik's Conversations Before the End of Time, a book which I recommend very highly. A lot of the criticism is rooted in the Western idea of the Renaissance Genius, which carries with it the implication that this painting or work (the Mona Lisa, or David, or whatever) is a Great Work, the product of a Genius, and Art has to be done by an Isolated Individual unsullied by society. Contrast this with aesthetic self-expression in non-Western cultures, and you find an art that is much more community-based, often fleeting, rarely fetishised in the way that Western art is. This is a lot of the reason that I'm very excited by graffiti and street art.

At the same time, though, I'm a product of this culture which fetishises particular works of art, and which builds museums with steadily-climbing entrance fees, spaced which often seem geared around packaging an Epiphanic Aesthetic Experience as entertainment, roughly the same price as at the cineplex. So of course I love going to museums, and I recognize that there are few experiences that can compare to seeing a Van Gogh or a Brancusi or a Baziotes or a Rothko. I'm not sure that I have a proposal even to make myself comfortable, but I'm unhappy with the system we have, and I do think that it's doing a lot to promote the idea that art is for intellectuals, that it takes work, and that it's safest to say, 'I don't get it.'
posted by shakespeherian at 5:10 PM on August 31, 2010


I'm not sure that I have a proposal even to make myself comfortable

Right, I'm not sure that this a problem museums can solve, because as you say it's rooted in a very broad Western cultural conception of who an artist is and what an artist does. The difficulty I have is that there is no viable alternative to museums that allows the public access to art. Without museums, most non-folk arts forms would be in the hands of private collectors. Museums accept public funding, and, despite the "cineplex prices," (and why shouldn't they be?), most major museums go to lengths to provide free days and evenings over the course of the year, and most are delivering a large amount of programming to populations that are usually beyond the sight of the casual visitor. My museum, for instance, has a relationship with 5 cities' school districts in which groups from certain grades visit five times a year, and everything is free - bus, instruction, admission, materials, a family reception. Residents of our home city are always free, and a library pass program allows local libraries to purchase an inexpensive pass and lend it out to library users in dozens of districts in our region. These are not uncommon services in the world of museums, and increasingly museum staff are cognizant that museums are public sector services that need to primarily focus on providing access to art, and practice in art thinking, to the people.

Funding's an issue. American museums are fairly unique in their quite low level of formula state support, which is the most crucial thing that would be required for free admission until another 100 years go by and endowments grow.

I think cortex's argument that it's the cultural idea of what museums are that will take longer to fade, regardless of the realities about how museums act today. The museum "project" was definitely born out of an Enlightenment obsession with classification and study collections for the higher learning or the priveleged classes, and in the 19th century became associated with the knowable-world idea, with eugenics and cultural classification and striation and hierarchy. That is an onerous history to shake in the public mind.
posted by Miko at 6:15 AM on September 1, 2010


Also, I see the point about "Philistines!" - it really was meant in a joshing manner, but I completely understand how someone already sensitive about voicing comments about art would find that an unpleasant reaction. It just makes me a little sad that people feel so much more tentative about these kinds of images than they would about any other set of images, and that does speak to the cultural baggage that's out there about what it takes to talk about art.
posted by Miko at 6:17 AM on September 1, 2010


I think part of this is less MeFi-specific, and more about how people perceive art as something WHOA way over there and feel like you need some special secret toolbox to understand it - when really, you don't. In other words, it's not that people lack the literacy to discuss this visual material - it's that they think that somehow more literacy must be required than what they are walking in the door with.

I dunno. I have an actual degree in art and I just don't get this at all. I'm not lacking any kind of "vocabulary," I'm just totally puzzled as to what's going on in some of these pieces. Sometimes, you just don't get it.
posted by sonika at 6:46 AM on September 1, 2010


I'm just totally puzzled as to what's going on in some of these pieces

When you look at them, what's going on in you?
posted by Miko at 7:12 AM on September 1, 2010


The museum "project" was definitely born out of an Enlightenment obsession with classification and study collections for the higher learning or the priveleged classes, and in the 19th century became associated with the knowable-world idea, with eugenics and cultural classification and striation and hierarchy.

Oh man, this. For as much obvious good that the Enlightenment brought us, I'm amazed that we, as a culture, still think this way. The Enlightenment is in many ways my personal nemesis.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:43 AM on September 1, 2010


When you look at them, what's going on in you?

Not much. Hence the lack of "getting" it. They honestly don't provoke any kind of emotional reaction and the symbolism isn't obvious in all of them. The cupcake one, f'rinstance. I don't feel anything about it other than "Ha, she's got a cupcake on her tongue." And then I read the responses here and I see where she was going, but honestly, I don't think this is quite the brilliant work of ground shattering art that it's laid out to be in that no, it does not evoke those feelings in everyone and no, I don't see body issues in it without reading someone else's interpretation because my first and only response is "She's got a cupcake on her tongue. That's... nice."

And I'm someone who looks at art all the time and has a degree in art and thinks about art and would be among the first to say "Well, what does it mean to you?" and I'm saying - nope, this one failed to grab me and that's not because I don't know how to think about it.
posted by sonika at 7:47 AM on September 1, 2010


I'm not sure it's laid out to be ground-shattering. I liked it because of the scope and ambition and because many of the drawings - not all - evoked a strong response in me. As I said, fine not to like it.
posted by Miko at 8:38 AM on September 1, 2010


Oh, I like it. I just think that the claim that "You don't get it because you're not thinking about it" is specious. That's all. It doesn't evoke strong emotions in me, but it does hit a certain nerve of "That' pretty neat."
posted by sonika at 9:45 AM on September 1, 2010


I think part of the disagreement is really about the vagueness of the word "get," and many of us are possibly using different working definitions of the word "get." To me, it means "have some way of coming to an understanding of this art, have some way of conjecturing about the artist's intent, have some way of noticing my own response." So when someone says simply "I don't get it," I'm hearing "There is no way I can understand this art, imagine this artist's intent, or notice my own reaction" which is what seems specious to me, and sounds more like unwillingness or discomfort. But others seem to see "get" as meaning "be emotionally impacted by" or "admire" or "like" or "claim full understanding of this artists' mind."

The word "get" is a confounder. At different times, to different people, the phrase "I don't get it" probably means a variety of things, from "I think that's stupid" to "I feel stupid" to "I hate this" to "The intent isn't clear to me at all" to "I'm really uncomfortable with it and don't understand why anybody would want to do this" to "the naturalistic representation of form is strangely at odds with the allegorical and phantasmagoric nature of the subject matter." I guess at bottom of the whole discussion, I would like to hear people say more when they are inclined to just say they "don't get it."
posted by Miko at 1:37 PM on September 1, 2010


I also think it has something to do with the way the American education system has taught aesthetics (poetry, fiction, the plastic arts) largely as an exercise in code breaking. The idea that a poem or a painting has one fixed meaning, that it is an attempt at unambiguous communication (or, often, didacticism) from the artist to the audience.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:50 PM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


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